Tucker was being particularly naughty that morning: whining, endlessly antagonizing, and recklessly wearing his sassy pants. Our words flew between us, his picking up speed and intensity. After a string of squabbles, he had reached his limit. Shouting a nasty “No!” and presenting me with the meanest mug I ever did see, I stopped in my tracks and looked directly at my little tyrant. And I delivered. My eyes bore into his, sending the boldest, most “don’t mess with me” glare I could muster. As his eyes met mine, he knew I meant business. Sheepishly, he relented. He crossed his contrary arms and sat right down in those sassy pants. The faintest apology was muttered, and I put my mom stare away as I finished the dishes. Feeling pleased with myself, I knew I had officially arrived into motherhood. I had mastered…The Mom Stare.
We’ve all been there, right? You’re acting a fool, darting in and out of those circular clothing racks at Dillard’s, full of itchy polyester and unnecessary pleats. You hide from your sister inside rings of questionable clothing while your mother pleads repeatedly, “Girls, c’mom. Knock it off.” Your mother’s voice seems very far away amidst the giggles and the sound of scraping hangers. All of a sudden you feel a stern grip on your arm and look up into the face of a creature, formerly known as your mother, staring you down with the scariest eyes you’ve ever seen. “Knock it off…right…NOW!” Gulp. Full stop. Her voice is no longer far away, and other shoppers have now taken notice. You scamper out of the teetering rack (much to the relief of the saleswoman who has been, up until this point, clutching her pearls), and you glance about to make sure your sister has also been the recipient of this death stare. You two lock eyes and nod imperceptively. Yep…playtime is over.
Was your mother mean? Some might think so. But I wholeheartedly disagree. Sometimes mom is not mean…she’s just mom.
There is something called Positive Parenting (aka Positive Discipline) that is a popular parenting method nowadays. There are even classes developed by “former yellers” one can take to gain further instruction on how to be a “yell-free” parent. One particular website describes this method as disciplining without “breaking the spirit” and developing a relationship based on communication and mutual respect. The focus is on “teaching children not just what but also why.” Well…sign me right up! Is there a book on Amazon? I certainly don’t want to be a spirit-breaker!
Make no mistake…I have no problem with this technique. In fact, I follow it! I admit that for my son, it is quite successful. My son is an eager to please, highly sensitive child whose main motivator is to make me proud. It doesn’t take much more than a look, a voice slightly louder than my norm, or the threat of losing a privilege to get him to obey. Loud sounds, sudden movements, and unexpected antics really bother him. Sometimes even the sound of me having a spirited conversation (read: I am a loud gal) prompts him to admonish me, saying “Mom, don’t yell!” He used to think “No” was a bad word. So, you see, he is the perfect candidate for this type of parenting. Allow me to be clear: he makes it really, really easy. If I am not careful, this success could lead me to be very, very smug. But I know better.
No two children are just alike. I know that my child is a special snowflake. He’s not all that difficult to discipline, and I have very little to do with that. In nature vs nurture, this is alllll nature, people. And I am sure of this because I have many friends for whom the Positive Discipline technique just does not work. At least, not very well. And when it fails, the parents employ the various tips and tricks to make it work, because surely it has to work, right? Make sure you spend one-on-one time with your child daily. Ensure adequate sleep. Focus on routines, and always be consistent. Say “Yes!” more, and use a time-out when the going gets tough. If this doesn’t work, try smiling more! Yes, that’s it! And be sure to get to the emotional undercurrent of all of Sally’s outbursts, because somewhere deep down, there is a cause for this behavior…and you must unearth it.
Whew. Parents…that last little bit was the actual summation of a website giving ten glorious tips for producing better-behaved children using Positive Parenting techniques. And though I find nothing inherently wrong with them, I can’t help but wonder about my friends. Parents of strong-willed children, do you feel like a failure? Are you thinking “I have tried all of that, and it isn’t working. What am I doing wrong?”
Well, my personal opinion is this: You aren’t. You aren’t a failure, and you aren’t failing. You are learning. WE are learning. And along the way, we are mastering how to be the best parent for our particular child or children. No one is born knowing how to do this parenting thing, and even if we were…every child is different! That’s why there are so many books! I wish I would’ve realized this before I purchased 12 of them because I could’ve saved a ton of cash.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Positive Parenting. In fact, I love it. The problem I have with it and any other parenting “movement” is that it tends to create self-doubt and shame in the parents for whom the method absolutely fails. Strong-willed children may need more. They may need a louder voice. They may need more than just a time-out. And for the love of cheese, there may be absolutely no reason for their outbursts except that they are tiny humans with very undeveloped brains, and parents shouldn’t beat themselves up for not being able to figure out why Sally had a meltdown in aisle 10 over a broken Goldfish. (“Maybe I shouldn’t have let her watch Finding Nemo???”) Nope. Just don’t even try. Kids are weirdos.
Books, blogs, and forums are great parenting tools, but treat them as such. You may even need some extra professional help along the way, but even still, you know your child better than anyone. And no matter what that voice tells you at night while you’re replaying the day’s events, you are more than capable to do this job. Trust your inner instincts, don’t be afraid to mess it up, and learn as you go. Grace, forgiveness, and do-overs abound. Children do have predictable patterns and basic needs, but they are nuanced and highly individual, and they must be treated as such. So believe me when I say, YOU are the parenting expert. Put the book down for a minute. Mama, you’ve got this.